Monday, March 14, 2011

Will My Genealogy Records Survive Me?

I followed the earthquake of 22 February 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand closely because a fairly large contingent of extended cousins live there or nearby.  As far as I’ve been able to determine, all survived but many experienced damage to their homes and businesses.

One story caught my eye on the evening of the first day, when it mentioned two teenagers who were trying to find their mother, Donna Manning, a producer and presenter for Canterbury TV.  She and fifteen of her colleagues along with forty or more foreign students and teachers were in the collapsed CTV building.

The six-story building was literally flattened.  Only a couple of survivors were eventually rescued from the wreckage.

The earthquake struck at 12:45 p.m., during the lunch hour.  Earlier in the morning, Donna hosted one of her weekly shows and it was posted on YouTube during the hour of the earthquake.  I watched the video not knowing if Donna had survived or not.  I then switched to a live video stream from Christchurch that showed the CTV building  and seriously doubted that she had survived. 

Little did Donna know that in less than 120 minutes after completing her morning show, she would be dead.  The video captured some of her last minutes in mortality.  Rescue teams later confirmed that none of the trapped folks in the CTV building survived.

The story ends on a many sad notes.  Donna didn’t survive.  Her children not only lost their mother but their home was structurally destroyed too.  Thieves looted their home while they waited at the pile of debris that was the CTV building hoping to hear of Donna’s recovery.  Their records and possessions had been stolen.

Hopefully, their photos and records survived.

Stories with similar losses of lives, records, hopes and dreams are a constant in the history of our ancestors and of the world due to wars, acts of men and of nature.  We know that devastating events will happen in the lives of those now living and in those coming behind us.   From a genealogical perspective, what can we do to mitigate the effects of disaster or the eventual loss of of our own mortal life?

Several activities should be part of our regular genealogical activities:

1. Digitize our paper documents and records.

2. Regular backups of our data and digital images. What is Regular? Simply determine your threshold of pain when considering the loss of your records.  That should firmly establish a frequent backup cycle in your mind.

3. Keep a copy of our backups in two or more locations off-site, one of which should be online with a digital company like Mozy, Carbonite, etc.  The second should be housed with a relative or close friend who lives in a different part of the country. You may want to trade with them and keep a copy of their data to reciprocate.

4. Add a codicil or section to our wills and trusts that specifically instructs the transfer and hoped for survivability of your genealogical records and data.  See an example of the verbiage here in one of my earlier posts.

5. Talk to your family now so they know your wishes from you personally, to both reinforce your wishes and to make arrangement for their transfer.  You may want to enhance or encourage their involvement in your genealogical research and activities right away.  Which one(s) of them wants to take up your ancestral quest? Resolve questions and associated issues about your genealogy data and work with them now, while you can still talk to them.

6. If you have websites, blogs, etc., be sure to include their URL’s and associated user names and passwords in your package.  Detail exactly how you want to announce your passing and include an example statement that details how or if the site or your contributions to a site will continue in the future.  I was surprised to find that I own or am a significant contributor to a large number of blogs and websites.  Will my family take over in my place?  We’ll have to talk about it and decide. 

7. Keep your codicil and lists of pertinent ownership, subscription, password and other data current along with your detailed instructions up to date.  Will your spouse and children be able to understand and find all of the domain registrations, hosting agreements, settings, programming and data storage sites that you have and use?  Do they realize that you have over thirty email accounts and what online personas they represent?  Do they realize that you are an editor, moderator, or have other key roles on many sites that are owned by other persons or entities that have depended on you doing my job? 

8. Think of the ways you interact with your data and others online.  Does your family know all of your social media personas?  Does they or an eventual guardian of your data know how to claim all of your submissions to FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc.?  FamilySearch and Ancestry are designed to allow others to contact you to both question your data and to ask for assistance or copies of your research.  They can’t do that if you are gone and your succession plan hasn’t transferred your account to their management.

9. Do Something.  Now.  You can put this work off, but delay will inevitably bite you and the survivability of your data.  This isn’t a question or supposition but rather is a statement of fact.  The preparation will take a few hours work and ongoing tweaks and updates, but the investment in time and effort will pay remarkable dividends.  Don’t let your extremely valuable genealogical work be lost.

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